PITTSFIELD — Dead squirrels piled up around Deming Park this week, neighbors say, and they think the cause is rat poison.
"I just want people to know so that they can keep their pets and children safe," Tanya OBert said Wednesday in a Facebook post, which also included a photo of several dead squirrels.
The post engaged hundreds in the community, with some saying small dogs in the neighborhood had also fallen ill in recent weeks. Other neighbors chimed in, saying they had found dead squirrels in other neighborhood places, too.
Many voiced concern for the squirrels, for dogs and children, and for unsuspecting wildlife that may feed on the dead squirrels and fall ill themselves.
City officials weighed in with a Facebook post of their own on Friday, telling residents "that there is no known use of rodenticides being used in or nearby Deming Park by the City of Pittsfield."
The issue remains under investigation by the Pittsfield Police Department., the post said.
The squirrels are turning up on the Ontario Street side of the park, OBert told her neighbors. She said she first noticed a couple of dead rats about a week and a half ago, and then later saw squirrels "thrashing around on the ground and suffering something horrible."
She has been disposing of the carcasses, she said.
Another commenter pointed to "a lot" of recent reports of rats in the area, and wondered if someone is trying to address that problem with poison.
Cara Petricca Carnevale, a local wildlife rehabilitator, said she also contacted the state's Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and the Department of Environmental Protection.
"I don't think we need to have mass hysteria, but the situation with the squirrels is definitely questionable," she told The Eagle. "It's not natural for healthy-looking animals to all die in the same place."
She said she believes the squirrels depicted in the Facebook post either ate poison in the area where they were found, or that they died elsewhere and someone dumped them there.
She said she is often called to help animals suffering from rodent poisoning, or rodenticide, near the General Electric Co. properties. On Friday, she said she retrieved a sick turkey vulture from the GE area.
She called it "a hot spot for poison."
Rodent poison is available to consumers at local stores, she said, and "every year I get loaded with animals that have been poisoned by rodenticide poisoning."
"What people don't realize is it affects the entire ecosystem," she said. "Insects will feed on it and store it they don't die from it, then frogs and birds will eat them and it'll build up in their body, and then if they die from the poisoning something else will die and eat them.
"And so on and so forth up the food chain," she said. "So it really affects the whole wildlife food chain. As well as pets."
Amanda Drane can be contacted at email@example.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.